'Pose' Team, Justin Simien Denounce Threats to Trans Identity at Outfest Legacy Awards

Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for Outfest
From left: Billy Porter, Laverne Cox, Steven Canals, Janet Mock and Our Lady J

Sony Pictures Classics was also honored at the Downtown L.A. gala, which drew presenters Lily Tomlin, Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox and Rupert Everett.

“When you’ve been in this business as long as I have, you have numerous opportunities to present numerous people with numerous awards,” began Lily Tomlin on Sunday night at the Outfest Legacy Awards, speaking with characteristic candor. “Sometimes you’re presenting an award because you won it last year, and people really like that kind of sentiment. Sometimes you’re presenting an award because the person receiving it is a colleague. And even though you’re a little peeved that you’re not receiving the award — because after all, you worked yourself silly, too — you do it because it’s the right thing to do. You know the next time you get an award, they’ll have to do the presenting.”

After much laughter, the Grace and Frankie star continued, “And sometimes you’re presenting an award because the person receiving the award actually deserves it.” This was the case with Sony Pictures Classics co-founders/presidents Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, three-time distributors of Tomlin’s work (The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, The Celluloid Closet and Grandma).

Outfest Los Angeles LGBTQ Film Festival happens in July, but this 13th annual, winter gala raises money for The Outfest UCLA Legacy Project, the lone archive dedicated to preserving LGBTQ footage. Comprising 40,000-plus movies, episodes and news clips, the collection ranges from the German silent film Different From the Others (1919) to Brokeback Mountain and 30 Rock dispatches. Aside from the Library of Congress, the Legacy Project is the nation’s largest moving image archive. Comedian and emcee Dana Goldberg sold $29,000 worth of auction lots to benefit its pursuits (Tomlin won the six-person archive tour and screening for $2,500). 

By Barker and Bernard’s count, 70 of their films have woven in LGBTQ narratives, including Capote, Pedro Almodovar’s catalog, 2018 Oscar winners A Fantastic Woman and Call Me by Your Name, and the latest Sony Pictures Classic release, Oscar Wilde biopic The Happy Price.

“While Hollywood frets overrepresentation or the lack thereof, while mainstream movies still, embarrassingly, utilize LGBTQ characters as reductive punchlines, and then wonder why they get appalling GLAAD ratings, Tom and Michael embrace holistic, queer characters, and stories that aren’t necessarily about being queer,” that film’s writer, director and lead, Rupert Everett, told the 400 person Legacy Awards crowd inside Vibiana, site of Los Angeles’ first cathedral.

“Sony Pictures Classics and the LGBTQ community are family,” said Barker. In his portion of the acceptance speech, Barker thanked fellow attendees such as Sony Pictures Entertainment’s senior executive vp and CFO Phillip Rowley, Participant Media president of narrative film and television Jonathan King, Boys Don’t Cry director Kimberly Peirce, and their Roadside Attractions counterparts Howard Cohen and Eric d'Arbeloff. Barker also remembered amfaR founding chairman Mathilde Krim — who died in January and was married to their former Orion Pictures boss, Arthur Krim — and also heralded West End hit The Inheritance, a gay love story he saw last week.

“[Writer] Matthew Lopez basically explains in that play, to us, that no matter how tough the struggle, mother nature and human nature over time will have the last say, and will grant you the rights you deserve, and in fact already own,” said Barker to cheers.

Just over a week ago, The New York Times reported that the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services might attempt to exclude transgender individuals with a new, more rigid gender definition. Several of the night’s speakers vowed not to tolerate regressive rollbacks, and emphasized the importance of voting in the Nov.r 6 midterm elections.

“There are those of us leaving legacies of hate and censure, legacies of lack and blame and violence,” said Dear White People creator and Rising Star Award recipient Justin Simien. “In the past 72 hours, no less then three hate crimes have torn into the heart of our nation. And while the rest of us are caught up in the fires left by the great orange distraction, the GOP is quietly packing the federal courts, near recess sessions and without oversight…. Our culture desperately needs new stories, new legacies. Because honey, the old ones have failed us.”

Simien accepted his tribute from good friend and Master of None Emmy winner Lena Waithe, who now helms her own TV drama, The Chi. Like Sony Pictures Classics, the event’s third honored guests — the cast and creators of Pose — were also given a statuette in honor of their trailblazing (and a themed drink special, "The House of Evangelista"; Call Me by Your Name and Dear White People fans, respectively, sipped on "Elio, Elio, Elio..." and "The Armstrong-Parker"). The FX series employees more than 140 actors, writers, directors and crew members, as well as the largest, recurring transgender cast in small-screen history, a fact presenter Laverne Cox reiterated onstage.

“While small-minded, fear-based people want to treat members of our community as less than, or worse, as not at all, this show is a testament to our insistence, and it’s a primetime education in the courage, perseverance and love that is our community,” said the Orange Is the New Black veteran and 2017 Outfest Legacy Award honoree

Thanks to Pose, Janet Mock is the first transgender woman to write and direct a television episode. She described the series “as a love letter to our forbearers, and honestly, to ourselves: brave, courageous, unapologetic, deeply inventive and creative folk.”

Representing his co-creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, Stephen Canals brought a bit more levity to the podium, where he recalled writing the first draft as a UCLA grad student four years ago. “The television landscape was filled with stories about straight, white, male antiheroes,” he said. “Lord knows we did not need another Walter White.”

Pose will next vie for the breakthrough series Gotham Award on Nov. 26.